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Shelter from the coming storm

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A turbulent global society will seek a new core focus in 2008, predicts Faith Popcorn, who has been tracking societal trends and studying consumer behaviour for 25 years.

Popcorn, who heads BrainReserve, has predicted the future for Fortune’s Global 500 Brands including Campbell’s, Colgate, Johnson & Johnson, Novartis, Pepsi and Yum Brands.

In her forecast for next year, she sees people searching for a new mental and spiritual anchor. The “anchoring trend” will reach back to spiritual roots, taking what was secure from the past to prepare for the future.

“We believe 2008 is going to be the year of the journey to the anchored destination,” she says. “In the year ahead, we’ll continue to be buffeted by the winds of change, winds that will continue to threaten our path toward that safe harbor.”

She says that people will continue to have their mindset characterised by “DissedTrust”. “People continue to reject the “establishment” (government, commerce, religion, etc.) because they expect it to lie, cheat and abuse employees, communities and the environment. There will be rich rewards for any institution that can reach the bar of trust; but most will find that measure simply too high to attain,” she says.

As for consumer behaviour, it will be influenced by two trends. The first is pleasure revenge with consumers having a secret bacchanal. “They’re mad as hell and they want to cut loose again,” she says.

The second is cashing out (working women and men, questioning personal/career satisfaction and goals opt for simpler living) with the overall culture tipping to the latter, guided ultimately by economic imperatives.

She says that we will see manifestations of this behaviour in “pleasure revenge. “Taking their cues from the celebrity culture, we’ll see people rid themselves of the ill effects of over-indulgence, only to binge again on all that is bad. The “cure” will be transient; there will be no expectation of permanent recovery,” she says.

She also predicts that as the health care system becomes the new Big Brother due to increasing costs, consumers’ lifestyles will be highly monitored. “Only the rich will be able to afford to binge on life’s vices. The fat will be the new rich, celebrated as a status symbol,” she says.

People will escape to fantasy reality, she predicts. “As virtual experience becomes more prevalent, and more commonly attainable, we’ll see more of it seep into our everyday reality and personalities. It will scream our desire to “chuck it all, and cut loose.”

The notion of “indulgence without consequences” is becoming increasingly attractive, and fulfilling she says. But seemingly at odds with fantasty realism is that other trend of cashing out. From the Swedish, most commonly translated as “just enough,” it’s an approach to both design and consumption that explains the essence of brands like Ikea and Volvo. “We see notions of “minimalism” and “sustainability” taking on significant currency, as even Americans reject hyper-consumption as not just excessive, but actually damaging to themselves, others, and to the planet,” she says.

As “cashing out” rises to this level of prominence, there will be a basic shift in the identity/mentality of people, as they make the transition from “consumer” to “citizen”– recognising that every act of consumption has a cost and consequence beyond the transaction, and that every transaction is a “vote” in favour of the offering entity, and against the options not chosen, she says.

To compete, companies are going to have to weave “goodness” as a fundamental intent into their corporate culture. Bringing on a dash of “corporate social responsibility”; whether the mere monetary commitment to a cause, or some other symbolic gesture, will not suffice to curry favour with the citizenry. In a world of transparency, where every corporate practice is knowable, they will be watching and exercising that all-important vote of the purse.

Popcorn predicts that activism is now the new narcissism. People will go from wearing their “cause” bracelets on their wrists to posting their causes and beliefs on their resumes and business cards. Employers and prospective hires will court their perfect (cause) match.

She also predicts that in 2008, there will be further refinements of brands seeking a place in this chaotic environment:

The two refinements are the “Whisper Brands” which is a logical progression from cashing out, the movement to simplicity. “We look for brands to take themselves out of the clutter, noise and overload. These brands will become more subtle and intimate as a way to get our attention; brands that whisper in our ears, so as to be heard above the roar of the mediascape.

The second is the Mafia Brands; consumers will look to their brands of choice for “protection” from the chaos. As brands progress from ad buyers to content providers, we’ll expect them to keep out competing sources of noise so that, “Shelter from the Storm” is not just another Dylan tune; it’s an important functional benefit.

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